Mexican vanilla and pure vanilla are very similar, but have a few key differences. In short, Mexican vanilla is a type of pure vanilla, but pure vanilla can come from several countries. Keep reading to learn more!
What is Mexican Vanilla?
Mexican vanilla comes specifically from the Totonac region in Veracruz, Mexico. It is made from the seed pods of Vanilla planifolia orchids grown in Mexico. Mexican vanilla beans have a distinctive flavor profile – they tend to be more sweet and smooth compared to vanilla from other regions.
Some key things to know about Mexican vanilla:
- Grown in the Totonac region of Veracruz, Mexico
- Made from Vanilla planifolia orchids native to Mexico
- Has a distinctive sweet, smooth, and creamy flavor
- A high quality and sought-after vanilla variety
What is Pure Vanilla?
Pure vanilla is vanilla extract made without any artificial flavors or additives. It contains vanilla bean extracts and a solution of water and alcohol.
Some things to know about pure vanilla:
- Made purely from vanilla beans – no artificial ingredients
- May contain vanilla beans from several regions like Madagascar, Tahiti, and Mexico
- Has a deep, complex vanilla flavor
- More expensive than imitation vanilla due to all-natural ingredients
So in summary, pure vanilla is all-natural vanilla extract without any artificial additives. Mexican vanilla meets these qualifications, but pure vanilla may also contain vanilla from other origins.
Differences Between Mexican Vanilla and Pure Vanilla
While Mexican vanilla can be classified as a pure vanilla, there are some differences between Mexican vanilla and pure vanilla in general:
- Mexican vanilla: Comes from Mexico only
- Pure vanilla: Can come from multiple sources (Madagascar, Tahiti, Indonesia, etc)
- Mexican vanilla: Tends to be sweeter, smoother, and more creamy
- Pure vanilla: Flavor depends on the source; can vary from deep to spicy to woody
- Mexican vanilla: Hand-pollination and slower curing process
- Pure vanilla: Varies depending on region and producer
- Mexican vanilla: Typically more expensive due to labor-intensive production
- Pure vanilla: Price varies based on factors like quality grade and demand
So while Mexican vanilla falls under the pure vanilla category, its distinctive source region, flavor profile, production methods, and pricing differentiate it from other pure vanilla varieties.
Grades of Mexican Vanilla
Like other vanilla varieties, Mexican vanilla is classified into different grades based on flavor intensity and moisture content. Higher grades have more intense vanilla flavor and aroma.
Grade A Mexican vanilla beans have a very deep, full-bodied vanilla flavor with floral notes. They contain a minimum of 2.6% vanillin content. This is the highest quality grade perfect for desserts, baked goods, and beverages requiring prominent vanilla taste. It has around 30% moisture content.
Grade B beans have slightly less intense flavor with 1.5%-2.5% vanillin content. The beans are more flexible and contain around 35% moisture. This grade works well in recipes where vanilla is not the star ingredient.
Grade C is the lowest official grade. The beans have subtle, light vanilla notes and a moisture content over 40%. Grade C beans are good for perfumes, candles, and industrial food production where high vanilla content isn’t critical.
Higher grades like Grade A and Grade B are recommended when Mexican vanilla’s iconic flavor is needed. Lower grades can provide economical options for baking, cosmetics, and more.
How Mexican Vanilla is Produced
Mexican vanilla production is a careful, labor-intensive process that differs from mass-produced vanilla in some key ways:
The sensitive vanilla orchids must be manually pollinated by workers to produce the valuable seed pods. Vanilla flowers last for just one day, so the timing of pollination is critical.
Once harvested, the Mexican vanilla bean pods undergo a slow, complex curing process. The pods are dried in the sun during the day, and wrapped in blankets at night to “sweat”. This can take several months. Extended curing develops deep flavor notes.
Trained experts carefully sort the fully cured beans into grades A, B, or C based on properties like length, moisture content, and vanillin concentration.
The beans are conditioned after curing through techniques like “claying”, coating in absorbent clay, to further enhance flavor. Additional steps like freezing or drying may be used.
Finally, the mature Mexican vanilla beans are extracted to make vanilla extract. ThePod and seeds provide the precious flavor.
So in summary, authentic Mexican vanilla requires meticulous hand-pollination, slow curing and conditioning, classification, and extraction. This results in a wonderfully unique and nuanced vanilla.
Substituting Mexican Vanilla
With its distinctive flavor and aroma, Mexican vanilla makes a wonderful ingredient for desserts, drinks, and other recipes requiring premium vanilla taste. However, it tends to be more expensive than other vanilla varieties due to the careful production process.
If you need to substitute Mexican vanilla, here are some options:
Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla
Madagascar vanilla has a similar rich, creamy flavor profile. Though it lacks the distinctive Mexican vanilla notes, it works well in most applications.
Tahitian vanilla has floral, fruity undertones. The flavor is not identical, but it adds gourmet vanilla notes.
Indonesian vanilla is quite affordable, with a flavor often described as creamy and slightly smoky. It works nicely in baked goods.
Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
For convenience, vanilla paste or extract made from various vanilla sources can substitute. You may need to adjust the amount or supplement with a Mexican vanilla bean.
If you need to avoid coumarin found in regular vanilla, coumarin-free vanilla extracts do exist. Just note the flavor profile will be different.
While they lack the exact flavor nuances, these options can provide a decent substitute when Mexican vanilla is unavailable or too pricey. For best results, try combining two varieties like Madagascar and Tahitian.
Common Uses for Mexican Vanilla
Because of its uniquely sweet, velvety, and creamy taste, authentic Mexican vanilla shines in certain culinary applications:
The richness pairs wonderfully with things like cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, and flans. A drop of Mexican vanilla extract in cookie dough is divine.
Mexican vanilla perfectly offsets chocolate’s bitterness in sweets like chocolate pudding, truffles, fudge, or frosting.
Custards and Puddings
Adding a bean during cooking enhances egg custards, cr??me br??l??e, flan, rice pudding, and chia pudding with vanilla flair.
Hot and Cold Beverages
Mexican vanilla sweetens coffee, tea, milk, hot cocoa, protein shakes, and cold drinks like vanilla lattes.
Use Mexican vanilla to elevate homemade candies like fudge, caramels, marshmallows, and jellies.
Add vanilla absolute (highly concentrated extract) to candles, reed diffusers, perfume, body lotion, and bath products.
Soak beans in vodka for a vanilla flavored spirit. Delicious in cocktails!
The options are endless for infusing recipes with quintessential Mexican vanilla taste.
Is Mexican Vanilla Better Than Other Types of Vanilla?
Whether or not Mexican vanilla is “better” than vanilla from other regions comes down to personal preference. Here are some key considerations:
Mexican vanilla offers a uniquely sweet, buttery, creamy vanilla flavor thanks to regional growing conditions and curing techniques. Fans love this flavor profile.
Type of Recipe
Mexican vanilla excels in certain recipes like chocolate sweets, custards, and baked goods where rich vanilla flavor takes center stage.
It comes at a higher cost than other varieties due to intensive production. The price may not suit all budgets.
Lower availability makes Mexican vanilla harder to source than common varieties like Madagascar vanilla.
Some favor Mexican vanilla for its sustainable hand-pollination methods versus mass vanilla production in other regions.
So while not unanimously “better”, Mexican vanilla stands out with its distinctive flavor and attention to sustainable practices. Ultimately the ideal vanilla depends on your taste, recipe needs, and budget.
Mexican vanilla has earned its reputation for having an unrivaled sweet, creamy, and buttery vanilla profile. While it can be classified as a type of pure vanilla extract, its production methods, flavor nuances, and pricing set it apart from other pure vanilla varieties. When its signature flavor is desired, vanilla from Mexico shines in baked goods, chocolate recipes, aromatic applications and more – though it comes at a higher cost. For daily baking and desserts, substitute with more affordable vanilla options, or opt for Mexican vanilla as a special indulgence.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes Mexican vanilla special?
Mexican vanilla stands out for its uniquely sweet, creamy, buttery flavor. This comes from the vanilla orchid species grown in Mexico’s ideal climate and the careful hand-pollination and curing processes.
Is Mexican vanilla expensive?
Yes, compared to other types of vanilla, Mexican vanilla tends to be more expensive due to the intensive manual labor required and smaller production quantities. The price reflects the work that goes into producing high quality Mexican vanilla.
What recipes work well with Mexican vanilla? ?
Mexican vanilla excels in desserts like ice cream, baked goods, custards, and chocolate recipes where its signature vanilla flavors take center stage. It also makes a wonderful addition to coffee, tea, and cocktails.
Is Mexican vanilla healthy?
Yes, Mexican vanilla is all-natural and packed with antioxidants. Pure vanilla extract contains no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Just be aware that Mexican vanilla does contain small amounts of the compound coumarin.
Can you substitute Mexican vanilla?
In recipes, quality Madagascar, Tahitian, or Indonesian vanilla can substitute for Mexican vanilla if needed, though the flavor won’t be an exact match. Vanilla bean paste or extract also works in a pinch.